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Prescribing over the counter (OTC) medicines: national policy

In line with NHS national policy, our practice will not generally give you a prescription for over the counter medicines (OTC) for a range of minor health concerns, even if you qualify for free prescriptions. Instead, OTC medicines are available to buy in local pharmacies and supermarkets.

Our Practice policy follows the national guidance for OTC medicines from NHS England and Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care System.

NHS England Patient Information Leaflet: Prescribing over the counter medicines is changing
Web link: click here
Download leaflet: click here

Which medicines can I buy without a prescription?

Some medicines for minor illnesses can be bought over the counter without a prescription, so you can treat yourself without needing to see a GP. Simple painkillers, cough remedies, and vitamin supplements, for example, can be bought directly from supermarkets and other stores. Other types of medicine, such as eyedrops or emergency contraception, are available without a prescription but need a pharmacist’s supervision.

Prescription-only medicines, such as antibiotics, must be prescribed by a qualified health professional.
This may be a GP, hospital doctor, dentist, nurse, pharmacist, optometrist, physiotherapist, podiatrist, paramedic or therapeutic radiographer.

What conditions would be suitable for prescribing as an OTC medicine?

Minor conditions suitable for self-careSelf-limiting conditionsItems with limited evidence of clinical effectiveness
mild irritant dermatitis
diarrhoea (except children)
dry eyes or sore tired eyes
excessive sweating
head lice
indigestion and heartburn
infrequent constipation
infrequent migraine
insect bites and stings
mild acne
mild dry skin
mild to moderate hay fever or seasonal rhinitis
minor burns and scalds
minor conditions associated with pain, discomfort or fever
mouth ulcers
nappy rash
oral thrush
prevention of dental caries
ringworm or athlete’s foot (except lymphoedema or cellulitis)
sunburn due to excessive sun exposure
sun protection 
teething or mild toothache
travel sickness
warts and verrucae

acute sore throat
infrequent cold sores of the lip (except immunocompromised patients)
coughs, colds and nasal congestion
cradle cap (except if the condition is not improving and is causing the infant distress)
infant colic
mild cystitis

vitamins and minerals

except: when the patient has a medically diagnosed deficiency; calcium and vitamin D for osteoporosis;
prescription-only vitamin D analogues such as alfacalcidol;
malnutrition from alcoholism;
patients suitable to receive Healthy Start vitamins.

Why does the NHS need to reduce prescriptions for over the counter medicines?

The NHS has been spending around £136 million a year on prescriptions for medicines that can be bought from a pharmacy or supermarket, such as paracetamol. By reducing the amount the NHS spends on over the counter medicines, we can give priority to treatments for people with more serious conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and mental health problems.

Are there any exceptions to the new prescription rules?

  • You need treatment for a long-term condition, e.g. regular pain relief for chronic arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease.
  • You need treatment for more complex forms of minor illnesses, e.g. migraines that are very bad and where over the counter medicines do not work.
  • You need an over the counter medicine to treat a side effect of a prescription medicine or symptom of another illness, e.g. constipation when taking certain painkillers.
  • The medicine has a licence which doesn’t allow the item to be sold OTC to certain groups of patients. This could include babies, children or women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • The person prescribing thinks that a patient cannot treat themselves, for example because of mental health problems or severe social vulnerability.

Hertfordshire and West Essex ICS: OTC Condition and matching OTC product available from the General Sales List (GSL) or Pharmacy-only list.

Pharmacies will only permit the purchase of an over the counter (OTC) preparation within its licensed indications and are legally obliged to sell limited quantities of certain medicines. Due to the extensive range of OTC preparations, the list (see links below) has been formulated according to the active ingredients of commonly available OTC preparations and is not brand exhaustive.

OTC condition and matching OTC product list: weblink or download document.